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Sh1.5Bn COVID-19 research equipment lies idle in warehouse in Ntinda

Research equipment key in vaccines sector. FILE PHOTO GAVI

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee-Central Government has noted a possibility of the tax payer losing 1.59 billion Shillings in unutilized COVID-19 equipment purchased by the disbanded Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

The equipment identified as the Dr Oligo DNA Synthesizer Machine was procured for a scientist from M/S Micro Haem Scientific and Medical Supplies Limited, with whom the Ministry signed a contract worth 5.14 billion Shillings on 16th June, 2020.

Payment for the machine  proposed for production of diagnostic kits was made on 24th June, 2020 and the supplier was required to deliver equipment within two months after contract signing.

The committee chaired by Busiro East MP, Medard Lubega Sseggona learned that the machine in question was procured for Makerere University’s Dean, School of Biomedical Sciences Prof. Moses Joloba, as one of the scientists that were brought on board as a Principal Investigator in the Covid-19 research.

The committee is currently considering Auditor General John Muwanga’s forensic investigation report in regard to COVID-19 funds expended in the financial years 2019/2020 and 2020/2021.

Prof. Joloba and other selected scientists were identified by Dr. Monica Musenero, who was then serving as the head of Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) to work on 23 priority projects for development of Covid-19 Vaccines, Diagnostics and Therapeutics. Musenero currently serves as Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation.

“I observed that included in the 5.14 billion amount paid by the Ministry was a payment for the Dr Oligo DNA Synthesizer, at a cost of US Dollars 422,242.57 (equivalent to 1.591 billion Shillings). However, it had neither been delivered nor installed by the supplier, as of 15th February 2022, the time I interviewed Mr. Cedric Akwesigye the Managing Director of M/S Micro Haem Scientific and Medical Supplies Limited,” reads part of Auditor General’s report.

The forensic investigation report further highlights a letter dated 19th November 2021 in which Akwesigye wrote to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Science and he explained that his company had been ready for delivery of the machine since 25th January 2021 but the Ministry had not cleared them to make delivery.

Now on Wednesday, MPs were informed by the former Contract Manager in the Ministry, Dianah Katiti that the Dr Oligo machine purchased to aid research by Prof. Joloba is still at a warehouse at Plot 14 Martyrs Way Ntinda, a Kampala suburb and that the machine warranty and starter-kit have since expired.

The machine was supposed to be delivered to the research beneficiary on 25th January 2021 and its one year warranty expired after 25th January 2022.

The machine, which was procured for the first time in the country was listed in a letter by President Yoweri Museveni as urgent for Prof. Joloba, the Principal Investigator to have.

“We were working on instructions directly from the President to procure the equipment urgently. The machine was supposed to be installed at the Good Laboratory Practice facility of Prof. Joloba,” Katiti told the committee.

According to Auditor General Muwanga’s report, Joloba, a Professor of Molecular Biology, Immunology and Microbiology said that he had brought to the attention of the Ministry, PRESIDE and M/S Micro Haem Scientific and Medical Supplies Limited that the equipment required a special installation place.

“However, this revelation by the Principal Investigator was not supported by any documentary evidence, and it pointed to a gap, during the appraisal stage of the project, wherein, the full extent of the project requirements appear not to have been catered for in the appraisals submitted to PRESIDE,” says Muwanga.

The Auditor General noted that the failure to receive the machine and to put it to use implies that no value for money has been utilized despite the Ministry having procured the equipment on an emergency basis. He also noted that the cost attached to the expired starter kit is a financial loss to government, since a new kit will have to be obtained when the machine is eventually put to use.

Documents before PAC-Central indicate that the proposed buildings for installation of the machine were found unfit by a team of consultants for proposed production of diagnostic kits that meet internationally acceptable standards. The documents say that this posed a challenge, thus leading to the arrival of the equipment without a particular place for installation.

Medard Sseggona, the committee chairperson said that they will have to ascertain the extent of loss made and who is responsible for the loss.

“The Ministry can only be exonerated when we receive documentation communicating to the scientist about the availability of the machine. We need a write-up on what has expired and how much is lost and we are also going to task our auditors to audit the figure,” said Sseggona.

Budadiri West MP, Nathan Nandala Mafabi also asked that the contract management reports are availed to the committee to ascertain the challenges and losses made.

In the financial year 2020/2021, the Ministry received supplementary funding of 31.032 billion which was to support the 23 selected projects of scientists and innovators engaged in Covid-19 scientific research. The money comprised 15.78 billion for the procurement of specialized machinery and equipment and 15.24 billion for operational costs towards the development of vaccines as well as drug diagnostics.

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